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from issue no. 06/07 - 2004

1964-2004. The presence of the Holy See at the UN

Observer, but never indifferent

by Giovanni Cubeddu

The Holy See became a permanent observer at the United Nations on 6 April 1964 and since then has always been invited to participate in all the sessions of the General Assembly of the UN. It belongs to many of the most important international conventions, is a member of many subsidiary bodies, agencies and intergovernmental organizations of the UN, and participates actively as observer at numerous specialized agencies (FAO, ILO, OMT , UNESCO, OSCE , etc) and at intergovernmental regional organizations, for example, the Organization of American States and the African Union. The Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC) recommended in 1997 the participation of the Holy See in the work of the regional commissions (moreover the Holy See contributes financially to the general administration of the United Nations). On the other hand it is also in the interests of the United Nations to favor the greater participation of States in its work and therefore also the collaboration of the Holy See, according to precise rights and duties. What has been so far said relative to the participation of the Holy See in the work of the UN is reported in the Resolution (headed: “Participation of the Holy See in the work of the UN”) which the General Assembly adopted on 1 July and which finally gives greater formal solidity to the Vatican presence and action in the multilateral scenario. The confirmation of permanent observer status by the 191 member countries of the United Nations and the attribution of a new list of rights and faculties proper to the member countries are certainly an improvement on the earlier status of the Holy See and do not present either the risks or inappropriateness of full membership: imagine for example the Holy See as a rotating member of the Security Council… or, without going that far, think of what could happen if the Holy See had to vote like every member of the UN on subjects such as the Holy Land, Iraq, or the allocation of finances for the functioning of some peacekeeping mission in crisis areas with strong religious connotations. (One detail: observer status does not include the right to vote and, therefore, the right to vote for or propose candidates in the General Assembly will not be granted to the Holy See). If the positive vote of the Assembly reinforces the presence of the Holy See in the United Nations – conferring the consensus and renewing its recognition by the 191 member countries of the UN – it will above all facilitate the profitable exercise of its attentiveness and charity in spheres that have to do with human rights, poverty and development, justice and freedom - not just of worship - and, in today’s world, especially peace and war.

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